I've decided to put together a list of scary movies that everyone should see. I thought about doing it in "no particular order", but that seemed like kind of a cop-out. Instead, I am 'ranking' them not by necessarily how good the movie is, but by how much you should see it, giving somewhat of an edge to the lesser-known movies of the horror and thriller genres.
That said, I realize everyone has a different definition of what is "scary" and what isn't. So for clarity's sake, I'm calling any movie that could fit into the horror or thriller genre a "scary movie".
Feel free to disagree with my choices, but this is my hand-picked list of scary movies, beginning, of course, with the top 10 scary movies:
Why did Session 9 make it to the very top of the top 10 scary movies? Probably because I consider it one of, if not the most, underrated scary movie I've ever seen. I went into this movie not expecting anything. Mostly because I had just read the description and thought it sounded good, but not heard anything about it. When I watched it I was instantly captivated by the pure spookiness and hidden terror that the scenery offers. It's a quiet, understated film that is haunting and creepy and exactly the opposite of the teen-slasher flick, but in a way, it's the somber understated terror that makes it so necessary for any horror fan to watch.
Also high on the list of the top 10 scary movies, mostly for being underrated, Frailty is a great horror movie because of what it doesn't show you. The story of a father who believes he was chosen by God to kill people 'disguised as demons' is terrifying not in the brutality of the killings, but in the raw reality of watching this happen from the perspective of his young sons. Definitely worth seeing for a great and truly creepy story that could happen in any town.
#3: The Descent
Okay, my first two picks were both understated story and atmosphere movies. The Descent turns up the blood and guts a few notches to hit #3 on the top 10 scary movies list. To anyone with even a minor case of claustrophobia, the six women crawling through underground caves will seem scary enough before the bad guys show up. With this great backdrop, the film still manages to get scarier and scarier as it goes on, combining the fear of being lost deep beneath the ground with the fear of being killed by something vicious following you at every step.
#4: 28 Days Later
Getting a little more mainstream in the top 10 scary movies, 28 Days Later is simply a fantastic, exciting, and cinematically enjoyable modern zombie movie. A lot of zombie-plague movies came out around the same time, but 28 Days Later stands out because of its execution. It's not cheesy or even unbelievable, and for a zombie movie that's saying a lot. The struggles the characters find themselves in go beyond running from the undead and delve into the relationships between the last humans left standing after the apocalypse.
#5: Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko is a very difficult film to categorize. It's not a horror movie, nor a thriller, nor is it really a drama or an indie flick. It's simply just a weird, interesting story that starts off with a fairly normal teenager in a fairly normal family and proceeds to push toward a sci-fi/horror story involving time travel, hallucinations, and alternate universes. If you haven't seen it, do. It's in the top 10 scary movies for a reason.
#6: The Shining (original)
I almost didn't put The Shining this high just because it seems too obvious, but as a truly brilliant horror film, it definitely deserves a spot in the top 10 scary movies. The Shining has many classic moments that have cemented themselves in pop-culture history, but it's truly at it's best when the dark, empty atmosphere begins to make even the viewer wonder if it's possible to go from stir-crazy to real-crazy. And honestly, any time you combine Jack Nicholson, Stephen King, and Stanley Kubrick, you're pretty much guaranteed a winner.
Coming in at #7 in the top 10 scary movies is Below. Below is a lot like Session 9 in the way it uses its spooky atmosphere in combination with the feeling of being haunted to create a truly scary experience. Below takes place largely in a submarine whose crew finds itself haunted by unseen forces. The claustrophobia and pressure of being that alone far from help is scary enough before the haunting takes over and really cranks up the fear factor.
#8: The Ring
I'll probably get eye-rolled quite a bit for putting up such a mainstream big-production movie in the top 10 scary movies, but I still think The Ring is one of the scariest movies that I've ever seen. The supernatural elements are truly terrifying, but the cinematography is even better. Dark and mysterious all the way through, The Ring is one of those movies that has you jumping every time you hear the phone ring for weeks after watching it.
#9: The Grudge
Like The Ring, The Grudge is an American version of a Japanese horror movie that was actually done better the second time around. I know a lot of hard-cores will disagree, but the American version of The Grudge has the same scares as the Japanese version with a tighter storyline and a scarier cast of characters. It's just plain creepy in the kind of way that you won't want to be home alone after you've watched it - the sign of a great horror movie and making it deserving of a spot in the top 10 scary movies.
#10: The Sixth Sense
Yes, three mainstreamers in a row, but The Sixth Sense clearly deserves a spot in the top 10 scary movies for the way that it changed the way people wrote twists in horror movies. It's not the scariest movie, and most people know the big plot twist by now, but coming from a perspective where you had never heard of a movie, there are few supernatural movies that are better-made overall than The Sixth Sense.
#11: Ginger Snaps 2 - Unleashed
I love the Ginger Snaps trilogy as a whole, but decided to go with only one as a must-see. The second movie in the series is easily the best, combining low-budget werewolves with coming-of-age teenage angst, you end up with a weird, twisted, and highly original take on the werewolf movie.
#12: Interview With The Vampire
A lot of people saw this movie because of its blockbuster cast, but truly it should be appreciated as one of the best vampire movies ever made. Long before Twilight or True Blood personalized the vampire, Anne Rice's movie adaptation was telling of the hardships of vampire life from the vampire's perspective. We take it for granted today, but Interview with the Vampire changed the way vampires took part in stories - as the protagonist rather than the villain.
#13: The Cell
As far as psychological horror goes, The Cell takes the concept just about as far as it could possibly go. Beautiful and terrifying at the same time, the story of a psychologist having to enter the mind of a madman is told with such amazing visual style and prowess that it's impossible not to feel gripped with fear while watching this movie. The whole thing is like one long nightmare that you can't wake up from. Unique and memorable, The Cell is worth seeing if you don't mind missing a few nights of sleep.
#14: Dawn of the Dead (original)
I don't have a lot of "classics" on my list, as I think the horror genre dates itself easily, but George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead easily earns its place on the big list of scary movies. Take the now-typical zombie apocalypse and have the survivors held up in a shopping mall, and you've got the recipe for this socially-critical zombie gorefest that helped mold the modern zombie film.
It's always nice when a movie breaks through the usual genres to stand on its own, but that also makes it easy to forget about it when compiling a list of movies of a certain genre. This is exactly what happened when I stumbled upon Tremors again while putting this list together and realized it truly belongs in the horror/thriller genre, despite the fact that it's basically a story about giant monster worms in the middle of the desert. Tremors is original and fun in its execution, and represents a very smart, unique take on the modern monster-movie.
#16: I Am Legend
Especially knowing that this was a remake of a remake of a movie based on a book, I had little expectations going into 'I Am Legend' (which, despite its remake-legacy is named after the original book). Perhaps it is this reason that I Am Legend made it so high on my List of Scary Movies. I'm not a huge Will Smith fan, but he did a great job playing the last man on earth surrounded by the diseased human beings who have become a sort of zombie-vampire hybrid.
Saw is one of those movies that I wanted to hate, but just couldn't. Yes, it's been sequeled and ripped-off so many times now that even the original seems unoriginal, but really it's that reason that makes it so important to the horror genre. People love their serial killers to be smart and loaded with riddles and puzzles, and the villain of Saw certainly pulls that off as handsomely as gruesome can get.
#18: The Blair Witch Project
Another movie whose parodies and rip-offs have almost outshined the original, I have to give credit to The Blair Witch Project for being the first of its kind - a movie to create a fake "true story", put the "evidence" all over the internet, then proceed to scare the crap out of people with the creepy "found-footage" that people, at least for a while, thought was real. Even now that we know it's not, it's a creepy story with a creepy ending that deserves to be seen at least once.
#19: Thirteen Ghosts
I love a fun horror movie as long as it doesn't sacrifice its story or its 'scary factor', and that's surprisingly hard to pull off. Thirteen Ghosts manages to find the balance between all of these things by using mad scientists, angry ghosts, a haunted puzzle-maze, and the Black Zodiac to build a fun to watch horror movie with a bit of a heart.
#20: The Others
Atmosphere, story, and a plot that takes you where you weren't expecting it to - these are all keys elements to taking a seemingly dull haunted-house story and turning it into The Others. I like this movie because it's smart. Well thought out and well played, it keeps you interested as it takes you on an increasingly strange and uncomfortable ride through the lives a widow and her children who live in a house with a very dark secret.
#21: Shaun of the Dead
Shaun of the Dead isn't exactly a scary movie, but it is a zombie movie, despite being also a comedy, so I believe it deserves a spot at the top of the Honorable Mentions at least. A funny and smart satirical take on the modern zombie film, Shaun of the Dead actually ends up having some real dramatic and scary moments in it, making it worthy of a watch or two (or three) from horror fans.
#22: Cabin Fever
Cabin Fever brings the campy 70's horror film back to modern times. Its intentionally over-the-top gore and goofiness make this one of the most fun movies in the horror genre. With some bad jokes and gratuitous nudity added in, it becomes the kind of movie that gets better with every beer.
#23: The Faculty
I remember trying to find The Faculty on DVD for a very long time, and that may be part of why I covet the movie a little more than I probably should. But it is a fun, stylish teen-horror movie where the town grown-ups get taken over by aliens. It's silly, but scary, in a way that I can only describe as: if H.P. Lovecraft had written and directed "The Breakfast Club" instead.
Scream was such a pop-icon of its time that it inspired more direct parodies of the movies than there actually were in the series. Take all that away and you have a modern teen slasher movie that actually does the genre right while simultaneously parodying itself throughout its story lines. Add a couple sequels to any successful horror flick and they'll usually be either forgettable or awful (or both), but Scream was designed to be a trilogy, and the second and third movies actually add to the Scream mythology rather than just leeching off of the first movie.
#25: The Craft
Four teen movies in a row?! I know, what must I be thinking... but The Craft is the only witchcraft-based tale on the list, so take it for what it's worth. This was another movie I expected to hate, but ended up kind of liking. It's not super scary, but the campiness of the teen-witch-coven takes itself just seriously enough to be fun and plot-driven at the same time. Definitely for the teen-horror-flick crowd, The Craft is actually a fun movie to watch for anyone who might possibly think that a "teen witch movie" might sound like a good time.
#26: From Dusk Till Dawn
If you like Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez, you will probably like this movie. If not, you probably won't. That's because From Dusk Till Dawn is very much what you would expect if those two teamed up and made an outlaw-meets-vampire movie set in Mexico. What else can I say?
Another sci-fi inspired movie that creeps into the horror/thriller genres, I originally watched Cube at a friend's suggestion having no idea what I was getting myself into. At first I didn't think that much of it, but as time went by I kept thinking about it over and over. And ten years later, I still do, which says to me that there's something about Cube that is worth experiencing. It couldn't be more simple or low-budget for a sci-fi or horror movie, but it's really the simplicity of the situation that Cube is based on that makes it scary. Imagine waking up in some kind of giant, twisted Rubik's Cube with no explanation, seemingly no way out, and booby traps around every turn. Simple, but psychologically messed up enough to keep you thinking about it for a long time to come.
Identity is not the greatest movie, and it's plot twist could probably be more satisfying, but it does what it's supposed to do - provide an entertaining mystery for the viewer and the characters to try to solve before everyone involved gets hacked to pieces.
#29: Stir of Echoes
Stir of Echoes combines the psychological with the supernatural in a satisfying enough way to make it onto the List of Scary Movies. It's not entirely scary, but as the story progresses, the mystery and the horrific events behind it begin to unravel in ways that are both intriguing and frightening at the same time.
1408, based on the Steven King novel, is a scary movie. It's not the best movie ever, but it's scary in the way that the possibility of demons and Hell are scary. It borrows a lot from The Shining in terms of a situation where you wonder if the main character is going crazy or if the world around him is, but it's really the sense of pure evil surrounding the storyline that makes this a legitimately scary movie worth watching.
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